“It ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast,” bellows W.C. Fields in the Yukon farce The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), just before a snowball promptly blasts him in the face.
That snowball arrives on cue each of the dozen times Fields opens his front door and delivers the line, and the joke never gets old. Sure, it’s a twist on the old pie-in-the-face gag, but that’s just the surface. There’s no explanation as to who’s throwing the snowball, if anyone or why, and like much of the humor in The Fatal Glass of Beer, the real punch-line (if there is one) isn’t immediately apparent. If the lack of an obvious “joke” is what makes the film so utterly stupefying to watch, it is also what makes it so richly rewatchable and weirdly haunting. The pacing doesn’t anticipate laughter, and the dialogue lacks obvious comic emphasis. It would easy but inaccurate to say that this unusual tone makes the film feel “modern,” but it would just as wrong to say this strange two-reeler was “of it’s time.” The Fatal Glass of Beer is like one of the natural wonders of cinema, a totally bizarre creation that abides by its own rules and exists in its own world—and what a wonderful world to visit it is.
One of the dead pan funniest dead-pan short films of all-time
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